NBA star Derrick Rose sent a powerful message Saturday night when he stepped onto the court for warm-ups wearing a T-shirt that read, “I can’t breathe,” in honor of Eric Garner, the unarmed black man who died after being placed in an apparent chokehold by a white New York City Department police officer in July.
The statement comes less than a week since a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who was caught on camera using an apparent chokehold that left Garner dead. It sparked days of massive protests nationwide through the weekend and noise across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with users posting hashtags like #ICantBreathe, #BlackLivesMatter, and #CrimingWhileWhite.
Rose’s move was a first for the Chicago Bulls point guard since going pro; he previously donated $1 million to After School Matters, a nonprofit organization in Chicago that helps teenagers.
Rose’s teammates, who said they knew he was going to walk out wearing the T-shirt, spoke to the media following the game against the Golden State Warriors.
“I think he has every right to express his beliefs. He told me that he was going to wear it. I respect Derrick a lot. I think he’s definitely making a statement by wearing it. That’s my guy,” center Joakim Noah said.
“Police brutality is something that … it happens. Not every cop is a bad person. Not every black person is a bad person. You can’t judge people. But he definitely made a statement by wearing that T-shirt,” Noah added.
In July, Garner died after being placed in an apparent chokehold by the white officer who was trying to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. The following month, Michael Brown, 18, also black and unarmed, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, Missouri police officer, sparking weeks of furious protests that included some incidents of looting and angry clashes with police. Both officers were ultimately not indicted by respective grand juries, fueling more outrage across the nation.
Rose is among several professional athletes who’ve joined protesters to share the message that black lives matter.
On Sunday, Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush and Cleveland Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi both warmed up in t-shirts with the same words “I can’t breathe” before their NFL games. St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Davin Joseph wore cleats with the words written on them.
And the St. Louis Rams last Sunday entered the game recreating the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” rallying cry of Ferguson protesters who have been active in that city since the police shooting death of Brown. on Aug. 9.
“I don’t want the people in the community to feel like we turned a blind eye to it,” player Kenny Britt told the Associated Press after their game. “What would I like to see happen? Change in America.”